IDAHO CITY, Idaho -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today highlighted his vision for a new direction in forest management and the new emphasis on collaboration, restoration, and conservation in the U.S. Forest Service's efforts to improve forest health.
During his visit, Secretary Vilsack toured the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, as well as a local business that is benefiting from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
"Our nation's forestlands, both public and private, are environmental and economic assets that are in critical need of restoration and conservation," said Vilsack. "By being better stewards of these national treasures, we can make our forests more resilient to climate change, protect water resources, and improve forest health while creating jobs and opportunities in communities across the country."
The Recovery Act provided nearly $2.7 million for hazardous fuel reduction in three wildland urban interface areas within the Boise National Forest Idaho City Ranger District. Vilsack visited Treasure Valley Forest Products, which is benefiting from $500,000 in funding from the Recovery Act, enabling the company to purchase new equipment and double their production of wood pellets, a clean burning fuel that people use to heat their homes. The wood to produce this energy is taken from efforts to remove shrubs, underbrush, small diameter wood and other low value trees from the nearby forest. These efforts to clear underbrush will lessen the risk of catastrophic wildland fire, improve wildlife habitat and improve stream health and drainage to allow more water to be available for local watersheds.
Every day, the Recovery Act is helping put Americans back work producing clean renewable energy that will decrease our reliance on fossil fuels and set this nation on the path to energy independence. Altogether, the Recovery Act investments into Treasure Valley Forest Products will create 50 jobs: 15 jobs at the plant in Mountain Home and 35 jobs in the forest. This project shows the potential for rural communities to create the green jobs of the 21st century by using resources available locally like forests or agricultural bi-products to produce clean, renewable energy.
Across the country, USDA has announced Recovery Act investments worth $49 million for wood-to-energy grants and $8 million for biomass utilization to support projects like these. In Idaho alone USDA has invested nearly $10 million dollars in projects that promote the development of woody biomass-based energy that will create the renewable energy infrastructure we need to put this nation on the path to energy independence.
This project exemplifies the new direction for our nation's forests laid out by Secretary Vilsack in a major speech in August which focuses on conservation, management, and restoration of these natural treasures. Climate change, catastrophic fires, disease and pests have all led to declining forest health in recent decades. The resulting impact on watersheds, the climate, local economies, wildlife, and recreation, led the USDA to offer a new vision for our nation's forests. By taking forest management in a new direction, the Department will emphasize the role our national forestlands play in contributing to the health and prosperity of the country and reverse the trend of declining forest health.
President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is one component of this new direction that USDA has already begun to implement. Through the Recovery Act, the Obama Administration is funding 512 projects that will create jobs restoring our nation's private, state and national forests through hazardous fuel reduction, forest health protection, rehabilitation, and hazard mitigation activities. Nearly 170 of these projects will help maintain our forests to reduce the potential for fires. Meanwhile, thirty of these projects will promote the development of biofuels from woody biomass to help private sector businesses establish renewable energy infrastructure, create green jobs and build a new, green economy for the 21st century.
The U.S. Forest Service manages national forests and grasslands encompassing 193 million acres of land, which is an area equivalent to the size of Texas. With over 80% of the forest area in the United States outside of the National Forest System, the new vision seeks to increase public-private cooperation regarding the conservation and restoration practices to non-federal forests - state, tribal and private forest lands. The Administration's plan calls for the U.S. Forest Service to play a leading role in the development of new markets to sustain the economic viability of forest stewardship and provide landowners with economic incentives to maintain and restore forests.
National forestlands produce economic benefits from a diverse range of sources including recreation and more than 200 hydroelectric plants operated in national forest watersheds. With more than 192 million visitors to National Forests in 2008, local communities throughout the country benefit economically from those who recreate on and near forestlands and high-quality water bodies protected by forested watersheds.
A healthy and prosperous America relies on the health of our nation's forests: